Domestic workers who work in middle class homes in Delhi, drivers working for taxi companies in Gurgaon, the construction worker in Kerala and the agricultural labourer in Punjab in all probability have one thing in common – they are migrants. Nearly one-third of India’s population is migrant population. Half of this population has migrated from rural areas to cities in search of work. Lack of alternate livelihoods and skill development in source areas, locations from where migration originates, are the primary causes of migration from rural areas. Workers migrate seasonally, temporarily, or for a longer period, either within a state or across states. More often than not, they are vulnerable, exploited and work in conditions where their rights are not protected.
Stimulating Public Awareness on Migration
Ahead of World Day of Social Justice in February, the United Nations Country Team aims to draw attention to the complex phenomenon of internal migration and highlight the issues and challenges associated with it. The purpose is to stimulate public awareness and facilitate policy debates on enabling safer and meaningful migration for vulnerable workers.
Migration is Crucial to Development…
Labour migration within India is crucial for economic growth and contributes to improving the socio-economic condition of people. Migration can help, for example, to improve income, skill development, and provide greater access to services like healthcare and education.
…But Migration is Risky and Challenging
Despite positive outcomes of migration, the process of migration can be very challenging for both male and female migrant workers, whether it is voluntary or distress (forced) migration.
The challenge is that migrants usually form a class of invisible workers. They work in poor conditions, with no access to government services and schemes, which are usually available to other workers. There are different risks in source and destination areas. Needs of family members, including infants, children, adolescents and elderly who accompany migrant workers or are left behind in source areas also need to be addressed.
Potentially negative costs and risks for migrant workers that need to be mitigated include:
- Lack of awareness among migrants about their rights as ‘workers’ and as ‘migrant workers’
- Unscrupulous labour agents who coerce workers and do not pay minimum wages as stipulated by law
- Many migrants, especially young girls and women, are deceived and trafficked
- Workers who engage in seasonal work, such as in brick kilns or agriculture, are often trapped in a situation of debt and bondage
- Enforcement of laws and protection of rights of workers during migration and at worksites
- Poor and unsafe working and living conditions, lack of occupational health and safety
- Possibility of violence at the workplace and sexual harassment of women
- Greater threat of nutritional diseases, occupational illnesses, communicable diseases, alcoholism, HIV and AIDS amongst migrant populations
- Exclusion or lack of access to public services and social protection for migrants due to regulatory and/or administrative procedures in destination states
- Lack of inclusion of migrants in the socio-political dynamics of the city, lack of participation in the political process at the local level and poor integration into social structures such as self-help groups
Women constitute an overwhelming majority of migrants. Female migrants are less represented in regular jobs and more likely to be self-employed than non-migrant women. Domestic work has emerged as an important occupation for migrant women and girls. A gender perspective on migration is imperative since women have significantly different migration motivations, patterns, options and obstacles from men. Read more
Making Work Decent for Migrants
Since internal migration in India is very large, it it needs to be given high priority with specific policy interventions. Governments and policy makers can play a vital role in ensuring that migrant workers undertake safe migration, have decent working and living conditions in destination areas, are aware of their rights and have access to social security and welfare schemes. Read more
Suggestions to promote Decent Work for Migrant Workers in India include: developing a policy framework that gives priority to migrants, creates linkages between state and central policies on healthcare, education and social security, and facilitating convergence of state and central resources.
- Establishing institutional mechanisms for inter-state coordination
- Improving enforcement of labour laws
- Adopting a four-pronged approach for better protection of rights of workers that defines the roles and responsibilities of the state, employers, workers/trade unions/civil society organizations and emphasizes the use of social dialogue and collective bargaining for promoting the rights of migrant workers
- Ensuring access and portability of social security schemes, for example, access to public distribution network/ subsidized ration in destination areas
- Accessing housing, water and sanitation
- Providing identity documents to migrants, which enables them to open bank accounts and enrol for welfare schemes
- Universal registration of workers on a national platform and developing comprehensive databases
- Strengthening and/or setting up district facilitation centres, migrant information centres and gender resource centres
- Strengthening the role of panchayats in registering workers
- Strengthening the role of vigilance committees to guard against bonded labour and child labour
- Registering workers by organizing enrolment camps
- Providing education and health services at the worksites or seasonal hostels
- Providing skills training, in particular for adolescents and young workers
- Establishing a universal helpline for migrant workers